The captain is smiling. Even if his Worlds were more than light on a personal level after a year of transition (two halves in 50m NL and butterfly), Florent Manaudou enjoyed the Hungarian week of the Blues. Before the last races in the Duna Arena, the 2012 Olympic champion came to confide his satisfaction to the handful of French journalists present in Hungary. Before going to make a little speech of congratulations to his troops in the evening…
How do you assess the week?
FLORENT MANAUDOU. It’s a great team, with a lot of good individuals. We went looking for podiums where we did not expect it. It’s always nice when it’s on the right side. Apart from Mel (Editor’s note: Henique, 29, silver in the 50m butterfly), it’s really the young people who made the medals and that’s great. The energy of the band is cool. I really rediscovered what I had experienced with the France team in London. We had won medals at the start of the week and that calls for more. Instead of making 4th or 5th places, we are more likely to make podiums. Last year, it was a bit complicated, yet we have almost the same team. There is a freshness and something that is building up well for Paris.
How can this success be explained?
Victories and good results the first days. We used to start with Camille Muffat in the 400m or the 4 x 100m NL relay. There, Leon (Editor’s note: Merchant on 400 m medley) started the machine well and some said to themselves: “It is possible. We don’t necessarily put it into words, but it matures in the evening when we go to bed and it allows for great results.
You have experienced a lot of atmospheres, good and not so good, with the Blues. What characterizes this one?
She is fresh. I got to know the French team more, which performed better than the old ones, at least compared to me. (smile). There, we win medals with 20-year-old swimmers, it’s good for the future. There are a lot of young people coming out in world swimming (Editor’s note: like the Romanian Popovici, 17, titled in 100 m NL and 200 m NL) and we’re in on it. For the moment, we are not winning medals in the relay but when we have great individuals like that, it will pull the French swimmers who are not there to want to enter.
What is the contribution of Jacco Verhaeren, the new director of the French teams?
He hasn’t been around long, but he’s got things going on energy, all that stuff. The impact of each is hard to tell. But there is also a nice mix among old and new coaches. Jacco is there for something. An important moment was after the French Championships to make this day to weld us all together, to discuss around a table. It created links between swimmers, coaches, etc. At the training course in Canet, we already knew each other very well and there was no such fear among the young swimmers. Léon, even if he already has a good track record, he is still young and having confidence in his team is important.
Does collective success make you forget your own Worlds?
It’s easier to perform less well when others are winning medals. I felt for years, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2021, that I needed to “save” the team. I didn’t see it like that but that’s kind of what stood out. There, we are a strong team. There is something united. It gives me freshness, I want to be part of the party. The role of captain does me good too. But I don’t come to the Worlds to make speeches, otherwise I would be in the staff.
A wind of optimism is blowing on the Blues?
(Smile) Eight medals is already better than one last year (Editor’s note: his in Tokyo). If we multiply by eight each time… It’s good to keep this momentum, hang world medals next year in Fukuoka (Japan) and at the Euros this summer (Editor’s note: Rome from August 11 to 17). But, there, I think there won’t be too many problems even if it won’t be exactly the same team (Editor’s note: he himself ignores). The goal is to keep this base and this functioning.
You were Olympic champion at 21. What advice can you give Léon Marchand?
It’s going to be different again because we have the Games in Paris and that’s going to be the big expectation… There, he was expected but with the status of Olympic finalist (Editor’s note: 6th in Tokyo in the 400m medley), it’s different from what he’s going to experience next year. When he won the 400m medley, I was glad he was in the States with Bowman. I saw Léon all week, we ran into each other. He wins his medal, stays in the process, wants more… and it’s by staying like that that he’s going to perform again.
Is exile saving?
In France, we like to promote our champions but that also has a price. It’s good that he stays away from all that and it worked this year. In the USA, he can swim fast, always be in a fight, compete, face off, there are surely people younger than him who will come out. He will always be in this ultra-competitive mode until Paris and even after I hope. That’s great